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The Dream Life of Sukhanov

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  1,035 Ratings  ·  160 Reviews
Olga Grushin's astonishing literary debut has won her comparisons with everyone from Gogol to Nabokov. A virtuoso study in betrayal and its consequences, it explores - really, colonizes - the consciousness of Anatoly Sukhanov, who many years before abandoned the precarious existence of an underground artist for the perks of a Soviet apparatchik. But, at the age of 56, his ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 30th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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Jan 15, 2016 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, russia, 2016
This paranoid, dark, twisted, funny and moving novel enthralled me. Once I got used to it, I loved Grushin’s writing. She has a style that’s hard to describe; descriptive, blunt, and lush. I was hooked pretty quickly by this strange tale and found myself impatient to get back to it whenever I had to put it down. The world of Sukhanov was highly addictive. You never really knew what was going to happen next as this Soviet official wandered around 1980s Moscow in a fog, dipping in and out of reali ...more
Feb 22, 2016 Manny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who lie to themselves
Recommended to Manny by: notgettingenough
Emanuel Lavrentievich closed the book and returned to his review. There was an odd sensation in his eyes and the back of his throat, and a number of thoughts, all of which he knew he would be well advised not to dwell on, were doing their best to gain his attention. He moved his gaze over the words he had already written, but they refused to cohere into sentences. And some of them surely had nothing to do with it? He deleted "Chekhov", "ineluctably" and "icon", pondered a while, and then put bac ...more

.....Much later after finishing this wonderful book.

I did talk a few people into reading this. The first, Margaret, who has read many, many books over the decades immediately declared that she could call it the best book she's ever read too. Phew. I was afraid I was not overselling it, but creating a situation where expectation could not equal experience.

The review is here, unchanged since I first put it on GR:

Oct 24, 2011 Alta added it
The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2005, 2007) by Olga Grushin

I don’t know about you, but as I grow older, I rarely read a book with the total abandonment I used to experience as a child or a teenager. Olga Grushin, a young(ish) American writer who emigrated from Russia at eighteen, must have some special powers in order to cast this spell with both her novels, The Line and The Dream Life of Sukhanov.

The first thing that separates Grushin’s novels from those written by her American contemporaries is t
May 03, 2007 Bonnie rated it it was amazing
Wow! Best novel I've read in quite some time, and it's a first novel. Echoes of Tolstoy, Nabokov, and Bulgakov. English is Grushin's 3rd language, but you wouldn't know it. Story of a 55-year-old man in 1985 Soviet Russia, having a nervous breakdown as his work and family life fall apart and as Soviet Russia is on the brink of falling apart. As a young man, Sukhanov showed promise as a Russian surrealist in the tradition of Dali and Chagall, but in fear for his life and career, he suppresses his ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
On The Vicissitudes of the Dream Life of Sukhanov.

In the beginning it was fire...

I've rescued this book from a mouldy crate (which once contained Portuguese tangerines) left on the floor of a firemen station in a provincial English town on a placid Saturday afternoon of early May.
The first novel by Olga Grushin was lying on her meek ivory back crushed beneath a pile of heavy-weighted low-browed gaudy rubbish labeled Sophie Kinsella, Danielle Steel and E.L. James.

(BBC Oxford set the mood broadca
Jun 02, 2016 Dawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-the-best

'Haunting', 'Stunning' & 'Heartbreaking' claims the cover. The blurb is something I always take with a pinch of salt - but on this occasion, for me, the book was all those things.

I think it would strike a chord with many, as most people have to compromise and sell out to some degree in order to have comfort and security for themselves or their family - often losing who they are in this life process. Thankfully, these days not many are in the extreme situation that Sukhanov (and others) faced
Apr 24, 2012 Stacia rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone & especially fans of art & surrealism
Shelves: 2012, europe
At first, the long, flowery sentences overfilled with adjectives put me off the story a little bit. But for just a few pages... because, somehow, the story, the writing morphed and these became beautiful, startling descriptions. Melancholy. Surrealism. Art. Life. Youth. Aging.

Truly, this book is sublime. It's like a breathtaking painting put into words. Grushin has an incredible talent for merging the real with the unreal, a current life and a dream. You smoothly drift from reality to dream and
Kseniya Melnik
Aug 08, 2007 Kseniya Melnik rated it it was amazing
Can I just say: WOW. And not just because Grushin is a Russian lady writing in beautiful, crisp, evocative English, that's grand and all, but what an approach to a classic subject matter! She addresses the things we (aspiring writers, artists and such) think about constantly, mumble to ourselves and talk to others, passionately when drunk: what is talent? can it be confused with youth and energy? does an artist have a duty to fulfill himself, and at what expense to his family and friends? is to ...more
Apr 15, 2011 Anna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The best book I have read in a really long time. I'm partial to it, of course, because the novel floats through the world of artists in Soviet Russia. (How could I not love a book like that?) The book really shines, though, because Grushin's prose has that special something that makes the story absolutely haunting and unpredictable. At any moment you feel like her characters could find redemption, come across a ghost, walk away from life as they knew it, or throw themselves off a bridge, and it ...more
Jul 09, 2009 DonaAna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read this year. Gripping, yet feels instantly like a classic, feels slightly like Bulgakov. Just simply loved it. Wish more people could write like this.
Sep 05, 2012 John added it
Sukhanov's wife, Nina, describing her husband's early, experimental paintings, when she first saw them, says: they are dark, very dark indeed, darker than expected but, also, strange and...beautiful." This is a pretty good summing up of the novel, too.

Simply put, hahaha, this is a dark, colourful novel, bleak, dripping wet, grey, heavy and light as snow flakes, bright, slow, annoying in parts, and rising to flights of fancy so beautiful, painful, and inspiring in its anguish and salvation that
Nov 09, 2013 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian, contemporary
A fascinating and deeply imaginative novel, beautifully written, surreal and all too real. To an American audience it may read as a high-art tale of midlife crisis, with a Russian twist. That is fair enough, and the novel is highly accomplished on that level. But it is also shot through with quintessentially Russian metaphysics. You will particularly like this book if you are a reader who appreciates writing that exploits words' ability to do more than represent a simulacrum of reality.
Jun 01, 2009 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
Beautiful and lyrical and satirical all at the same time. It's clear that Grushin has read the Russian masters - Bulgakov, Gogol, Dostoevsky - and it shines through in this gorgeous little book. I picked it up from the library, but now I wish that I'd bought it...

My other comment is that it frequently reads like a Chagall painting. And while I didn't necessarily care for Chagall before I read this book, I think I like his work now. I need to go to the MOMA to check.
Mar 01, 2016 jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
Quick quibble: aggravatingly adverbby. (A little alliteration for what ails ya?) It slows the reader's pace, which is a fortunate side effect, because this book does so much in the way of imagination, paranoia, and simple historical narrative. There's a lot worth paying attention to.

My favorite stylistic flair is the author's true stealth in sliding from third-person to first-person narrative in service of flashbacks. The stitching is impeccable. They never felt sloppy or even a tinge pretentiou
Kate Sykes
Sep 01, 2009 Kate Sykes rated it it was amazing
A profoundly engaging character-based novel about a Russian art critic's rise to fame and subsequent fall from grace. Spanning approximately fifty years of Anatoly Sukhanov's life, the story takes shape from the schizophrenic paroxysms of the character's daydreams and nightmares. On the surface a book about a middle-aged man losing his mind and therefore finding himself, Dream Life is also an allegory of Russian communism, and a formidable treatise on surrealism. This book succeeds on every leve ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Bettie☯ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 02, 2012 Robert rated it it was ok
The Dream LIfe of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin raises the question of whether any book should be called a “first novel.” This fanciful, lyrical, and somewhat odd book is the work of an accomplished writer who surely had written many more pages than were finally included in The Dream Life of Sukhanov when it was published

Our hero, if we may call him that, is Anatoly Sukhanov, a Soviet bureaucrat of the arts who gave up painting for criticism and has become, at the novel’s beginning, editor of an impo
Dec 21, 2011 Tom rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, russian
Every now and then history elbows its way into a book I’m reading. The life of recently departed Vaclav Havel, at first glance, would seem to offer a stern rebuke to life of Grushin’s protag, “Tolya” Sukhanov (is it fair do compare historical figures with fictional characters? why else to we read novels, if not to see the grubby, muddled “truth” of “real” life in a new light?). Havel, an artist in his own right, chose not to “live within the lie,” as Solzhenitsyn put it; Tolya conforms to the li ...more
Sep 03, 2016 Louise rated it really liked it
In the mid-1980's, Sukhanov has reached the top of his career in Soviet arts administration. In the journal he edits he pans the art he loves as capitalist decadence. This editor position has a lot of perks and he holds it by virtue of his wife's connections.

As the novel progresses, Grushin explores whether or not Sukhanov ever had a choice in life. His father's fate in Stalin's Russia is symbolic of many who perished for perceived political crimes or for just being individuals. Sukhanov's life
Sep 19, 2016 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 (ish) rounded up to 4

Review to follow
Oct 18, 2007 Saxon rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of russian fiction in general...
Shelves: school, newish-books
Second installment of "Novel on the Globe" course.

I really enjoyed this novel and would give it four and a half stars if the website so allowed me. Following in the tradition of most Russian novels, I feel like I could read this novel a few more times and still not entirely obtain all the symbolism and meaning behind it. There are certainly layers upon layers within this text.

The story revolves around the middle-aged character Sukhanov during glasnost period Moscow. At first, we learn that Sukh
Apr 26, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it
Recommended to Amy by: Saxon
This novel at its core is a story of man in his 50s having to confront the decisions that he made as a younger man and how they shaped the course of his life. Sukhanov essentially had two paths that he could have taken. On one path he pursues his passions but will inevitably struggle economically and will be outcasted to a certain extent. The other path requires him to give up, even forsake, that which he is most talented and passionate about, but in exchange he will live quite comfortably. Havi ...more
Cat {Wild Night In}
I don't know about you, but normally I run to a novel to hide from the world and get transported as quickly as possible to a far-away place. At first, (until chapter 6) I found it hard to sink into this story, not because of a dislike of it, but because of the richness of the language. The beauty of the descriptions made me stop to luxuriate in them, for example, "...the sun shot out through the glass in a fiery orange zigzag, and out into the street spilled the zesty smell of roast chicken and ...more
Jacques Bromberg
Aug 29, 2006 Jacques Bromberg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Nabokov, John Banville, and dreamy, meandering prose
Shelves: prose-fiction
Olga Grushin's first novel delivered one wonderful surprise after another. I still can hardly believe that English wasn't her first language. "Dream Life" is the delicate story of the mental and social decline of Sukhanov, an influential Russian art historian during the waning years of the Soviet Union. Against this obscure and changing political background, a distant but constantly demanding family, and his foggy memories, he becomes aware that his life has been a series of choices he doesn't f ...more
Parrish Lantern
Apr 30, 2011 Parrish Lantern rated it it was amazing
I've called this “A proper Russian Novel” and by this I mean that Olga Grushin has invested in the character of Sukhanov, all the angst and pathos, all the weakness and hubris that I remember reading in all those great Russian novels. Sukhanov goes on an epic journey of rediscovery, he is constantly assailed by images from his past, haunted by all those ideals he repressed for the sake of a career in the USSR. Yet things change, and it’s in this change, Sukhanov is left to question his choices…. ...more
Erma Odrach
Jul 30, 2009 Erma Odrach rated it really liked it
This is a story of a 56-year-old man, who 25 years earlier traded his life as an underground artist for that of a high-ranking Soviet agent. He ends up betraying his family, his friends and himself. The novel is set in present-day Moscow (1985), then flashes to the past and is full of dream sequences. I thought it was well-written, but I didn't like how it constantly moved from the first to second person.
Aug 07, 2011 Benjamin rated it it was ok
Shelves: russian, fiction
I found it a very frustrating read. I was more okay with it once I understood that it was a story of mental breakdown, but I had a hard time empathizing with or buying into the character of Sukhanov. It's such a passive and reactive character, I kept thinking of a pinball machine. I had much higher expectations of Grushin, especially having read an excerpt from her other book Exile, which I liked!
Feb 20, 2009 Beverly rated it liked it
Shelves: literary
Lyrical, but strangely uncompelling, this is the story of a moral and mental breakdown. An artist of brilliant promise in his youth, Sukhanov sells out to the Soviet way, becoming an art critic/apparatchik promoting 'Russian' art as opposed to decadant Western art. In 1985 at age 56, the combination of mid-life and glasnost brings his past crashing down on him. As in European literature of the 20th century, politics shapes life in a way that is unknown in this country.
May 29, 2009 Ruth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Best book I read in 2009. Wonderfully layered and immersive novel looking at the compromises and sorrows and memories of a Russian art-bureaucrat who used to be an artist. Echoes of his father's death in his life. Lots of psychological and historical depth.
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Olga Grushin is the author of three novels - The Dream Life of Sukhanov, The Line, and Forty Rooms - as well as short stories, literary criticism, essays, and other works. She has been awarded the 2007 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and named one of the Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine; her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Granta, The W ...more
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“In anyone's life there can be only a few such moments - moments when a long, ringing hush fills your hearing, the world stands still as if under a magic spell, and thoughts and feelings course freely through your being, traversing the whole of eternity in the duration of a minute, so that when time resumes and you return from whatever nameless, dazzling void you briefly inhabited, you find yourself changed, changed irrevocably, and from then on, whether you want it or not, your life flows in a different direction. This was such a moment for me.” 14 likes
“... this stray little thought released in him some echo of the past, a solitary trembling note whose sound rose higher and higher in his chest, awakening inarticulate longings and, inseparable from them, a piercing, unfamiliar sorrow.” 3 likes
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